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an online version of the magazine Winter 2005
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Marketplace Catch-up

Edward D. Miller, M.D.
By Edward D. Miller, M.D.

In the world of scholarly medicine, Johns Hopkins is privileged to hold a hallowed spot. For years, we've led U.S. universities in the amount of annual grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health. We're known as a pioneer in key laboratory discoveries and bedside treatments. And we're recognized for moving to an interdisciplinary model in the basic sciences, which many academic leaders see as essential for curing complex diseases in this era of genomic medicine.

And yet, when it comes to turning this wealth of medical insights into marketable products, Hopkins is way behind its peers. We're barely treading water as entrepreneurs. It's easy, though, to understand why. None of us who came to medicine before this modern era thought we'd be tapping into our business and marketing acumen. I assure you that during my medical school days, technology transfer was not a hot topic. Today it's the frontier.

I realize, believe me, that we all face a steep learning curve, and I know something about such challenges. When I assumed the dual role of dean and CEO in 1997 without any formal business training, the gap in my resume worried some trustees. Luckily, they had faith I could be educated. My trustee-tutors during those days included people who knew a thing or two about building a successful enterprise—Mike Bloomberg, George Bunting and Mike Armstrong. Today, I am living proof that you can take an old-school anesthesiologist and teach him to navigate the business side of American medicine.

So how can we extend this lesson throughout Hopkins Medicine? First, we all must agree on why it matters. The most fundamental reason is that commercialization is the best way to turn the fruits of our bench work into enormous public benefits. Having agreed on this, we must identify our niche in a crowded field of academic medical centers competing in this unfamiliar arena of venture capitalists and biomedical industrialists. How do we make the right contacts and persuade bottom-line-fixated executives that our discoveries can be translated into profits?

In our struggle to jump-start this campaign, we've embarked on a multipronged approach that I think makes enormous sense. I give you the key elements:

 

Seek guidance from the pros.

We've assembled 16 biomedical-technology experts to give our investigators honest, no-holds-barred business advice by listening to them talk about discoveries they hope to bring to market. The Johns Hopkins Medicine Alliance for Science and Technology Development evaluates our researchers' presentations twice a year. Afterward, these experts grill researchers on the additions they'll need if they want to impress financiers and corporate executives.

 

Find champions to open the right doors.

We assign an alliance member to each research project considered to have development potential and task the business leader to move that product to market. This sometimes means the advisor/expert talks with company or industry contacts, and they may need to coach their investigators on ways to make the discovery more commercially appealing.

 

Provide bridge funding for promising inventions.

We ask the alliance members to select two to three projects from each cycle of presentations for a $50,000 award in “gap” financing—money that buys investigators extra time to fine-tune their work, pursue licensing agreements or search for start-up capital.

 

Remove internal obstacles and red tape.

To remove institutional hurdles impeding technology transfers, we've formed the Technology Opportunities Program. Run by a large number of seasoned faculty investigators, this program aims to remove needless barriers to commercialization efforts. This group also provides industry leads to research presenters.

 

Simplify the process.

For filing patent applications and licensing agreements, we've turned to a Web-based system that makes it easier to update documents and track submissions. This system gives us a broader view of how faculty investigations fit together, allowing us to market groups of discoveries to interested companies.

 

Bring technology firms to your doorstep.

This pivotal step is unfolding right now just north of campus with construction of the first research building in the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins. I think the park will stand as a powerful answer to our historic lack of a nearby site where scientists could take their ideas and begin the early phase of commercial development.

Think of the possibilities, as technology executives regularly visit our labs, lunch with our investigators and see the results of discoveries on our patients.

With all of these new approaches, firmly anchored by the new biotech park, I feel confident that our trenchant lag in transferring Hopkins discoveries into the marketplace is about to change dramatically.
 
 
 
 
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